Are there many areas left on this planet virtually untouched by tourism? Can you think of any off the top of your head?
I can, and I have had the pleasure to be traveling there for half a decade with small groups of photographers just like you.
The location, Mongolia. The reason, some of the most unique photo opportunities I have ever experienced.
Although the practice is rapidly disappearing in other centers of Kazakh culture, in Mongolia the tradition of Eagle Falconry on Horseback is alive and well. It is a tradition as old as the nomadic Khitans from Manchuria. A people who conquered part of northern China around 940AD.
Every year, just as the winter hunting season is about to get underway, eagle hunters gather from all corners of Bayan Olgii province to celebrate the enduring tradition and to pit their birds against all comers during a two day event that will captivate your imagination, fill your memory cards and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
Today, approximately 250 Kazakh men live in the western Mongolia province of Bayan-Olgi carry on a tradition first depicted by the Khitan archives. This tradition is “horse riding eagle falconry”. The skill of using a Golden Eagle to capture prey while riding through the mountains.
Now, every October, a festival to celebrate the traditions and the craft of eagle hunting on horseback occurs. During this festival up to 70 eagle hunters gather for the annual Kazakh Golden Eagle Festival of Mongolia. And, on my last trip for the festival, the ages ranged from a young girl of 13yrs old participated, and as old as an 85yr old man showed the intimate crowd the art of golden eagle hunting.
I had the pleasure of witnessing the synchronicity between man (and a girl) and eagle over the course of two entertaining days. Both hunter and eagle showing off the skills needed to once tip the scales between starvation and survival; now showing off the skills to still feed a family, but more to embrace the long standing heritage and show off the prowess of the art of hunting fox.
On my trips, you will join me at their festival to watch the thrilling competition that tests not just the bird's mettle and the hunter's skill, but also the bond between hunter and bird.
Beforehand, we accompany Kazakh Eagle Hunters on a hunt with their eagles in an intimate photo opportunity with eagle hunters in their natural setting… the Altai Mountains.
But it’s just not for the festival that I like to go to Mongolia. You will get a taste of the region's stunning natural beauty—forested valleys, clear alpine lakes, expansive meadows, and snowcapped peaks.
If you would like to know more, we are visiting the festival twice in the next two years.
Please see those trips here…
2016 Trip (3 spots available) http://northof49photography.com/mongolia-photo-workshop
2017 Trip (2 spots available) https://kevin-pepper-bcji.squarespace.com/2017-golden-eagle-festival-photo-tour
If you still want to see Mongolia, but would like to see the Naadam Festival, we are going there in 2017 as well. See that trip here, http://northof49photography.com/2017-mongolia-photo-tour